My father served nine years in the Canadian Army from 1938 to his return on the last troop ship sailing of RMS Queen Mary in 1947. He never talk to me about why it took so long to return fromEurope after the war, and his bitterness against his time overseas. It wasn’t until 2000, when he lay on his death bed, that he finally told me the whole story of what haunted him all those years.
Whenever he spoke of the war he would regale us with his time playing basketball and never having to go into combat. My dad was a sergeant seven times over, only to be demoted to corporal for not strictly enforcing curfew on the men in his company; those who would come back late to barracks having spent too much time in the pub or with girlfriends.
On VE day in 1945 my dad went out and got plastered like everyone else, but the next day was the beginning of the war for him. All the Canadian battalions were brought to the parade ground and told they would soon be sailing home to Canada. However, before being dismissed the officer commanding asked, “Does anyone speak Yiddish, step forward”. My dad forgot the first rule of the army; never volunteer.
He stepped forward with a few other fellows and was ordered to report the next morning to Stansted Mountfitchet airfield. This was one of airfields, built by the Americans, where the USAAF Eighth Air Force and the RAF used as base for bombing operations against Germany. Today it’s officially known as London Stansted Airport.
The volunteers naively believed they were flying westward, home to Canada, and not having to endure days sailing across the Atlantic. However, instead they were on an easterly course to Bergen-Belsen death camp. One of many houses of Nazi horrors, where tens of thousands met their death, among them Anne Frank, who died just weeks before the British and Canadians liberated the Nazi concentration camp. My father was stuck in this hell for 18 months processing the countless survivors.
“The horrors I saw still wake me at night”Former British army corporal Ian Forsyth, now 96, was among the soldiers who liberated Bergen-Belsen.
Upon returning to Canada he threw his uniform into the coal furnace. A combination of being an eyewitness to the aftermath of the atrocities of Bergen-Belsen, and guilt for not being in combat. It led to great anger every Remembrance Day.
I never understood his reaction to the war until I heard this story. It changed everything for me and, since 2000, is one of many thoughts of remembrance on this Day.